Movie News & Reviews

A look at Oscar nominees for live-action, animated short films

“Piper” is a cutesy Disney/Pixar story of a little sandpiper who learns a lesson from a hermit crab and becomes a hero.
“Piper” is a cutesy Disney/Pixar story of a little sandpiper who learns a lesson from a hermit crab and becomes a hero. Pixar Animation Studios/TNS

Every year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominates five live-action short films and five animated short films.

For this year’s awards, the live-action short films were pared down from an original list of 137 films, and the automated short films from an apparent record list of 69 films.

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The reason we don’t get to see these films in theaters is partly because the final list is not announced until late in the season — this year, it was Jan. 24. So how are we to determine what the best short films are on such “short” notice?

I was fortunate enough to notice that the Coligny Theater on Hilton Head Island was showing both the nominated animated and live-action short films, and I wasted no time in going to the theater to check it out.

I am delighted that I did. I saw some of the most engaging and interesting films I have seen in the past year.

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Let me first dispense with the animated short film category. I say this because I found many of these films rather dark considering they were essentially cartoon characters. OK, I am not being fair — these writers, artists and animators are serious professionals who spend countless hours crafting these little films that may be over in a matter of minutes. Just try to get a message across in 7 or 10 minutes. There has to be an engaging story line, artful renderings of various characters and some sort of resolution at the end of that period of time. It is not an easy task.

Nevertheless, I found some of the films visually difficult to watch or totally depressing.

Animated Short Films

 

“Blind Vaysha” is a French film with such harsh gashes of color and lines, it was difficult even to watch it. Bulgarian animation director Theodore Ushev used the century-old process of linocut block printing for this animated work. While it was certainly an ambitious project, at times I had to close my eyes because the style was so visually uncomfortable. The story line is a fairytale: Cursed at birth by three old crones, Vaysha has one eye that sees only the past and the other that sees far into the future. Perhaps the theme turns on the tendency to idealize the past and fear the future. In my mind’s eye, the film was so harsh to watch that the meaning of the film was lost to me.

 

“Borrowed Time” is also a dark animation. This American short is about an old Western lawman who returns to the scene of an event that has tormented his life. While the graphics are pleasant, the topic is not and involves the accidental death of the lawman’s father at the younger man’s hand. There is a resolution, but it is so clichéd that it is easy for me to dismiss.

 

“Pearl,” the other American short, is graphically pleasing and has a heartwarming message — a young girl shares a musical nomad existence with her dad and comes full circle back to itinerant music. It is my favorite of the lot.

 

“Piper” is a cutesy Disney/Pixar story of a little sandpiper who learns a lesson from a hermit crab and becomes a hero — cute, but I am wondering why it was nominated as the best of the best.

 

“Pear Cider and Cigarettes” is a 35-minute short (defying the idea of “short”) about a man’s lifelong relationship with a friend who is both a chain smoker and an alcoholic who needs a kidney transplant. This Canadian offering is neither short nor sweet, but it is the sort of film that artsy snobs might embrace. Not me.

Live-Action Short Films

Moving to the Live-Action Short Film category, I cannot begin to pick a winner — they were all so excellent.

 

“Ennemis Interieurs” (Enemy Within) is a poignant story from France about an Algerian man who is applying for French citizenship — and how the government bureaucracy traps this would-be citizen into identifying a dozen innocent friends whom he met at a local mosque — all in the government’s effort to curb terrorism. The implication is that all “other” people are in danger of being mislabeled and imprisoned simply for being “the other.”

 

“La Femme et le TGV” is a delightful film based in part on a real person who was in the habit of waiving at passing trains. Our Swiss heroine owns a small bakery, and when she is at home, she sets her alarm to wave at a high-speed train that passes beneath her bedroom window twice a day. One day she receives a note tossed from the train thanking her for her waving at the train. A long-distance correspondence ensues until the train mysteriously stops passing by. The ultimate resolution is not quite what the woman expected but perhaps better.

 

“Silent Nights” is an offering from Denmark. A young Danish woman volunteers at a homeless shelter, where she meets and falls in love with an undocumented immigrant from Ghana. The couple builds a short life together, but her lover has a secret family in Ghana and all bets are off.

 

“Sing” is a Hungarian film about an overly ambitious chorus director who is set on winning an annual singing competition. To ensure the continued success of the chorus, the director has asked certain students to be silent and merely lip-sync the lyrics. When the humiliating secret is finally revealed to all the chorus members, the chorus plays a lasting and devastating trick on their director.

 

“Timecode” is an extremely imaginative and delightful film from Spain. Two people — a man and a woman — share 12-hour shifts at a security kiosk in the parking garage of an apartment complex. Since they have the possibility to review various security film clips, the woman discovers a secret about her male counterpart — he is a closet dancer. Through a series of exchanges of Post-it notes specifying times and dates, they communicate with each other through independent choreography. It is a charming presentation and, clearly, my favorite.

Caroline McVitty is a former features writer for Today’s Post in King of Prussia, Pa., and now lives on Hilton Head Island. To reach her or to read more of her reviews, visit mcvittymovies.wordpress.com.

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